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Question: Now that we are about at the mid-season break for shows, I have been thinking about which returning shows are having the best, most satisfying seasons. Fringe, Castle, Community and Bones are at the top of my list, but I have to single out Parks and Recreation as the best returning show. I wasn't sure Parks and Rec could sustain the consistently funny run it had last season, but it has easily lived up to the expectations of Season 3. I think what has made this season even better is the addition of truly touching moments that were not showcased in past seasons. I think it has grounded the show and highlighted just how big-hearted it is (overlooking the treatment of Jerry, of course). Also, Parks and Recreation has accomplished something few shows can do: making fans unanimously root for the show's main couples: Ben and Leslie, Andy and April. I don't think I can heap enough accolades onto this wonderfully written and acted show.
The show that has surprised me the most is The Office. I thought it was going to be as horrible as the end of last season was. But the addition of James Spader, and Andy becoming regional manager, seem to have breathed new life into this show. I really enjoy Robert California and his spot-on view of the Dunder-Mifflin folks. The speech he gave during the Halloween episode was fantastic. Andy was a great choice to succeed Michael Scott because he is (slightly) more adept at being regional manager, but we still get the goofball nature of classic Michael Scott. What are your picks for best returning shows? Do you think The Office is much better than you thought? — Amy C
Matt Roush: Community is still my favorite NBC Thursday comedy — congrats by the way on winning the Fan Favorite contest! — but Parks and Rec isn't far behind. The turning point for me came with the addition of Adam Scott and (to a lesser degree) Rob Lowe. Ben in particular, as a love interest for Leslie who gives us an outsider's perspective on Pawnee without giving up his nerd cred, has been a huge plus. And much like life itself, the show has figured out pairings that make the most comedic sense, including Andy and April and even former golden-girl Ann's awkwardness around Chris since he moved on. But I wasn't that keen on Tom's subplot for the first part of the season — he's like the Dwight of this show; he irritates more than amuses me — and the whole Entertainment 720 misadventure felt like such extreme pandering it once again made me wonder where in the world of Indiana a town like Pawnee is supposed to be. Which brings me to the returning show that I feel is having the best (if much less heralded) season: ABC's The Middle, which feels so authentic in its comedy about the hectic messiness of a working-class family's life, where there's never enough to get by, and yet they do, despite their kids' aggravating eccentricities (and Poor Sue's inability to succeed at anything) and the parents' inclination to just let things slide. As who doesn't? The Middle is brilliantly funny, but apparently not "hip" or ironic enough to factor into many critics' discussion of TV's best comedies.
As for The Office, I'm afraid I'm not on board these days. It feels awfully played out to me on just about every level. There are clever moments, as there always have been, and I appreciate that James Spader hasn't been allowed to take over the show, instead insinuating himself into the group with perversely sly mind games. No slight on Ed Helms, but Andy as the new manager just seems to be striking the same note of needy insecurity every week. This is a case where I feel NBC needs the show more than we do anymore.
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Question: Well, Matt, the big news seems more official the more of it we get. They're actually going to make more Arrested Development. And it's even better news than we could have dreamed of! There's been movie talk forever, but we actually get a short season in addition to the film? It's incredible! It's amazing! It's got me filled with apprehension! Yes, apprehension. See, I'm of the camp that Arrested Development is probably the greatest sitcom of all time. It rewards repeat viewings like crazy and it never stops being hilarious. I love the show. I eagerly started following the career of Mitch Hurwitz, so eager to see what he might come up with next. Then I saw what he came up with next. Sit Down, Shut Up, for one example. Running Wilde for another — I actively awaited its death so that the talented cast could be free again to do something quality (yay for Up All Night). So, we're getting more AD, and I should be thrilled, but I am scared that whatever magic happened during those three great seasons was nothing more than a fluke. Maybe I'm putting too much on Hurwitz' shoulders, and the success of the series was truly collaborative, which makes sense. In that vein, I hope they get everyone back on this production, down to the slightest grip. That grip may have been magic. What do you think, Matt? I know you think the series ended perfectly, which may make this return to the world superfluous, but I doubt we'll be griping if it's also excellent. Are you excited? Any trepidation there? — Brad
Matt Roush: First, thanks for a very amusing take on the situation. Insightful, too, because what you see in following Hurwitz' post-Arrested career is just how difficult it can be to line up all the elements to create magic again. Arrested Development is one of those rare happenings where everyone was working on such a high level of deranged genius that it's hard not to be apprehensive about the long-delayed next chapter. Still, from all we hear, the passion for everyone to get their Bluth on again is what's driving this never-ending story of cult resurrection. I would like to think they wouldn't be doing it if they couldn't do it right; they certainly aren't doing it for the money, given that most everyone (in the cast, anyway) has moved on to much more success elsewhere. Far be it from me to rain on their parade at this juncture, so let's root them on for now. I honestly never thought it would get to this point, and I suppose given the nature of the beast it makes sense for the show to be returning under the experimental auspices of this out-of-the-box Netflix deal.
Question: Person of Interest is a different kind of show and I am hooked. Paige Turco as Zoe opposite Jim Caviezel's Reese intrigued me. Will we see her again on the show? I hope so. I enjoyed their matching personalities and thought the chemistry was great. — Bill
Matt Roush: The episode with Paige Turco (which was repeated Sunday night) was my favorite to date of the season as well, for many of the same reasons. Loved her character and attitude, but the way the instantly smitten and understandably impressed Reese responded to her made it even more enjoyable. (And made him seem a little more human, which was a bonus.) There's no confirmation yet about her return to the show, but I would think it's inevitable. It's clear they're building a world of characters — some good like Turco, some bad like Enrico Colantoni's deceptively lethal Elias — who will likely recur along the way, which seems necessary for a show with so few regular characters.
Question: I have a question regarding CSI: NY and Blue Bloods. Have the producers of the shows thought about doing a crossover episode? Since both take place in NYC and are on back-to-back, it would be really cool to see. — Marni
Matt Roush: I haven't heard of any such plans, which doesn't mean it won't happen, but should it never come to pass, there are a few logical explanations. One being that they are produced on separate coasts: Blue Bloods on location in and around New York City, and while CSI: NY does on occasion shoot in the city, its primary base of operations is Los Angeles. Plus the shows are run by completely separate production/writing teams, and coordinating these kinds of crossovers are complicated, even for shows within the same franchise. But most essentially, given the prominence of Blue Bloods' Reagan family within the NYPD establishment, it's probably best for CSI: NY to pretend they don't exist, so on those occasions when the crime lab interacts with the top brass, we're not presented with unnecessary continuity problems.
Question: I do enjoy watching Terra Nova most of the time. It is still on my DVR, and considering my shows have decreased off my DVR dramatically, I am keen on wonder what is going to happen next with Lt. Taylor and his "past" as we found out a lot last week. However, there is something about Terra Nova that is missing. It might be the lame "family"-oriented parts or the "build-up" to certain situations that never actually live up to it. I like how the show does answer some questions already like "What were the drawings on those rocks from the premiere?" which was answered last week. Overall, though, I am slightly disappointed on the outcome of the show and hope it excels better in the second half of the season. I will keep watching it for now, but is there any push for a second season as of now or do you believe ratings are too bad right now to even consider it? Also, I see there is a lot of "hype" I am reading regarding Alcatraz. Considering it is from the producers of Lost, and an all-star cast, would you recommend this show to give it a try? — Mike
Matt Roush: Just to make things clear, there won't be a "second half" to Terra Nova's season, which wraps Dec. 19 with a two-hour finale, comprising 13 hours in all. I still think, given how long it took to get this show on its feet and how much they've invested in it, that Fox will give it a second full season to figure out such things as tone (balancing family schmaltz against sci-fi adventure, for instance) and the mythology that bridges the prehistoric settlement and what's going on back in 2149. I thought last week's episode, with all of its reveals about Taylor and his son, was one of the season's strongest, so maybe these last few episodes will continue to turn things around creatively. As for Alcatraz, it's been several months since I viewed the very high-concept pilot, but it is intriguing and different enough for me to say with confidence that if you're curious to check it out, you probably should.
Question: After reading the Nov. 21st "Ask Matt" column, I had to respond to Dorothy's surprise at NCIS: LA's Sam having a wife and family. As a viewer since the beginning, I remember Sam's family being mentioned before, so seeing them wasn't a surprise to me. What surprised me, however, was the emotional punch in seeing Sam go home to his wife after the mission. Seeing Sam's heaviness of heart as he slipped back into his real life created an incredibly poignant ending. It was a reminder of the stakes that governmental agents face during these missions, and it's nice to see a character who has progressed into a relatable phase of life, even though that is not the focus of the show. We rarely see characters in these types of shows (White Collar excluded) that have spouses and families. Although I don't want these shows to delve too deeply into the personal lives of their agents, it was nice to have that little nugget. It's something Shane Brennan and his team at both of the NCIS shows do well, and as a fan of both, I appreciate those little moments that give depth to the shows. — Gina
Matt Roush: I don't expect everyone to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every show they watch — since I know I don't — so it's understandable when there's confusion or an unexpected emotional response when something like this aspect of a character's life is shown so directly for the first time. Your reaction is testimony to the fact that restraint can be a good thing and leads to effective payoffs when the timing and story are right.
Question: OMG what a game changer on Showtime's Homeland. When the man walked in and saw Brody on the couch ... holy cow, that was 10 different types of amazing. I am pleased Homeland seems to be getting so much correct in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. It reminds me of the early days of Lost where we didn't know where it was going and when it took a turn, we held on to our seats like we were on Space Mountain. I just hope they don't mess it up by trying to do too much. Cause this is something I can see getting into for the next few years. Damian Lewis, Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are incredible. — Jessica
Matt Roush: Hoping you liked this week's episode revealing more of Brody's back story, which didn't have as many shocking twists as some of the more recent episodes, but sustained the ambiguity of Brody's character and intentions very nicely. Homeland seems to know what it's doing, but I have no idea how far they're going with the story by the end of the first season, though if they haven't "messed it up" by now, I think we're OK at least in the long term. Agreed on the actors. They're living up to the writing, which is already pretty astonishing.
Question: I just wanted to let you know that I completely agree with your feelings on Bones. I have loved the show since the beginning, and while I was nervous about the pregnancy angle, I find myself enjoying this season much more than I had been lately. I think it adds a new dimension to these characters both individually and with how they relate to each other. I think it opens up many more storylines and I'm excited to see where it goes, hopefully on to an eighth season. — Megan
Matt Roush: Given how well Bones is performing this season, I can't imagine it not returning for at least another year or more. Wanted to lead with this letter, given that we're just coming off a long Thanksgiving weekend. Because we're also heading into what sounds like a winter of discontent. Read on.
Question: I have been a big fan and follower of your column. I may not always agree with you, but your response to a fan's question really bothered me. In regards to Bones, I have to say that this is not about the "pregnancy" or the shipper aspect of the show. My primary concern is with the character of Brennan. You stated in your response about Brennan being too weird to be in a normal relationship but that she has a steep learning curve. This is what has annoyed me about the show this past year and why I now watch something else. Brennan is now clueless and used more as comic relief than anything else. Each episode Brennan has to learn a lesson. She is portrayed as "heartless" in some instances, insensitive almost always, and seems to have no connection with anyone. This was not the case when the show started. Yes, she has issues but she did have relationships. Her scenes with the professor in the first season and her relationship with Sully both show that she connected emotionally with people. She has empathized with children over the seasons and developed a bond with the baby in that one episode. Last season in the episode with the deaf girl, it was true Brennan.
However, Brennan now has to learn every week and change to be worthy of love from Booth, and apparently everyone else. Even this past episode, Brennan kept referring to Baby Michael as Angela's son when she was talking to Booth. Brennan always uses names, even with all of the suspects and victims so why would she not use a name when talking about her best friend's son. She is now being written as this robotic scientist who has to be told how to be human. I watched this show because Brennan was a strong, independent, intelligent, sometimes flawed woman. However, now she is almost cringeworthy at times. I no longer enjoy watching this Temperance Brennan because she has regressed even further beyond what she was when the show started. Critics just think that fans are unhappy with the show because they missed out on the romance. Many of the original fans are just as upset about the characterization of Brennan. Not every woman watches the show to gush over David Boreanaz or watch for the shipper scenes. Having them together is great. But to do this only by sacrificing the essence of Brennan is depressing. Hart Hanson will blame it on the "Moonlighting Curse." For me the downfall of the show is making the lead actress fit more in with The Big Bang Theory or even Michael Scott from The Office. This show has really turned into more of a comedy, and the lead is usual the biggest "joke" of the episodes now.
To be really fair, they need to balance the show. Booth has many issues and could stand to change some of his views. Yes, there is more story to tell. It just seems like that story is about Brennan "coming around" to Booth's normal view of life. From the way the show is written now, what would he even see in her? So I guess you too have been entertained and won over by the producers. If you read the boards, you will learn that the "dumbing" down of Brennan has cost this show some original viewers. I guess this is what their market research indicates is what viewers like. It is just not the Temperance Brennan that was so respected in earlier seasons and the character that Emily Deschanel speaks about in her interviews. I don't think this is the character she worked so hard to develop. I don't think this is the message she was sending to young girls. Unfortunately, I can't sit back and laugh at this new Brennan. I can switch to The Office for that. Actually, the women on Grey's Anatomy are now much stronger female characters. As soap opera as it is, they at least stay true to who they are. — Elaine
Matt Roush: You make some interesting and fair points, but for the record, I was responding to a question specifically about the relationship aspect of the show. My opinion on Bones is general has nothing to do with being "won over by the producers" and certainly nothing to do with what's being written in the echo chamber of message boards. And as for the character of Brennan, it's entirely possible my memory of the show from its earliest days way back in 2005 is cloudy, but there have always been anomalies and inconsistencies with the character, including her introduction as a best-selling author who seemed to have absolutely no clue about anything in the popular culture and an anthropologist who seemed as detached from ordinary human behavior and interaction as (to borrow one of your analogies) Big Bang's Sheldon Cooper. She has grown on me over the years, and while it's hardly surprising that some fans have drifted away from the show for any number of reasons — only NCIS seems to be able to hold onto its massive base year after year — I don't see all that much erosion, especially considering its challenging time period. The wisdom of the pregnancy storyline is open for debate, of course, but how they're handling it doesn't bother me.
Question: Twice in a recent American Horror Story, the show cut abruptly to commercial in the middle of a scene. It first happened when the burned dude came to the Open House, and then later when Constance visited the not-Persian guy. Both times, there was an abrupt cut to commercial in the middle of the scene and when the show returned (abruptly), it was in the middle of a different scene. It happened at least once during the Halloween episode (when Violet was on the beach with Tate), and in the "Piggy Piggy" episode as well, when Violet was down in the basement. What's going on? — Tamela
Matt Roush: You've got me. I have the luxury (if that's the word) of getting advance screeners of most episodes of this series, so I think I've only watched one episode this season as it actually appeared on air, and that in DVR time delay. But from the pilot onward, I've found this to be a terribly and indulgently disjointed show that takes pride in its herky-jerky borderline incoherent editing — they probably see it as surreal — so it's possible these abrupt cuts were intentional. The screeners do indicate when the built-in commercial breaks are intended, and I don't remember them cutting the action off mid-scene or mid-sentence or whatever, although with this show, who can tell. So unless they're adding more breaks that disrupt the flow, your guess is as good as mine.
Question: I enjoyed watching Flashpoint for the past two summers on CBS. Then I saw a TV Guide ad for the show saying "New network, New episodes." The ad said it would be on Ion Television, and I was surprised, because I noticed that CBS had put its studio name in Flashpoint's credits, so I thought that they were helping in producing Flashpoint. I don't know if they did or why CBS Studios was in the credits at the end of the show, if they weren't helping with Flashpoint. Will CBS still air another season of Flashpoint next summer, regardless of the show airing on Ion Television? Or is Ion Television taking the show's U.S. rights and CBS is done with Flashpoint altogether? I haven't seen any news on this, so the advertisement is my first learning of this news. — Justin
Matt Roush: For the time being, you should consider Flashpoint an Ion exclusive. I don't entirely understand the logistics of the distribution or production deal for this show, but regarding its future on CBS, from all indications that has yet to be determined.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to email@example.com, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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